Review: Denon 301 MK II Cartridge

Category: Analog

The Denon DL 301 MKII is clearly one of the finest budget moving coil phono cartridges currently in the market today. This variant easily outstrips the original DL 301 by quite a margin.

Let's see, since 1964 many Denon cartridges have passed through here such as the 103,103D,103S,103R,110,160,207,301 and 303. So I am somewhat up to speed on phono cartridges from Denon. I have always been impressed by their line up and the value offered at their price point. Although this is my first experience with the 301 MKII. Listed below are some of the LPs used for this evaluation.

Music Used For Evaluation:

LP Playback:

Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)
Paul Desmond/Jim Hall - Complete Recordings - Mosaic(MR6-120)
Time Out - Dave Brubeck Quartet (Columbia CS 8192)
Paul Desmond - Self Titled (Artist House AH - 2)
Ahmad Jamal - But Not For Me - Argo LPS 628
Bill Evans - At The Montreux Jazz Festival - Verve V6-8762
Bill Evans - At Montreux II - CTI 6004
Sunken Cathedral - American Gramophone - AG 361
No Bass Hit - Concord Jazz Label - CJ-97
Oscar Peterson - Night Train - Verve V-6 8538
Gerry Mulligan Reunion Chet Baket - Pacific Jazz ST 90061
Bill Charlap - Things We Did Last Summer - Venus TKJV-19-111
Michael Garson - Serendipty - Reference Recording RR 20

Now for the obligatory specs.

Denon DL-301 MKII Specifications

•Output: 0.4mV

•Output impedance: 33ohms

•Stylus: special elliptical tip

•Frequency range: 20Hz-60kHz

•Tracking force: 1.2-1.6g

•Compliance: 13x 10-6cm/dyne

•Weight: 6.0g

The Denon DL301 MKII was installed on a VPI HW19 MKIV turntable with the Audioquest PT6 tonearm using Joe De Phillips Plus 4 tonearm phono cable. The Threshold FET 9 preamp was set to Moving Coil and the loading set to 100 ohms. Tracking force set at 1.5 grams.

Installation was straight ahead standard half inch mount and Denon provided a wide variety of mounting screws, so I didn't have to fumble around in my stash of mounting screws to find the right length, it was provided. All in all total installation time was around 45 minutes from opening the package to first LP playback. Now that's a breeze of an installation. First timers should have no problem installing the 301 MKII. Although I have over 50 years experience in doing this, still it should go without a hitch. If in doubt read the multi-language instruction sheet, or get help from a reliable source.

By the above list, a wide variety of music was used for the evaluation, some standard issue consumer LP's as well as Audiophile Lp's to round out the performance/listening test of the 301 MKII.

Like most all new MC cartridges the 301MKII has a forward image midrange presence, which is not that objectionable given todays many so called lame audiophile pressings. However after about 35 to 40 hours worth of use the mid range settled in quite nicely.

On quality audiophile pressings from Telarc, Angel, Reference Recordings and MoFi and others of that quality, the listening experience is all that one could ask for of a cartridge of this caliber. One would expect great things from this cartridge based upon the LP's used for evaluation and the 301 MKII does not dissappoint rendering a very musical signature and handling complex passages with ease.

On used records which I have many in the library, is one of the high points for the 301 MKII. Its ability to track previously played and used LP's is one of the strengths of this cartridge. On some of my most compromised recordings, that were unplayble with other cartridges the 301 MKII played them with a solid authority that caught be by surprise. In fact some LP's I had earmarked for the trash bin, were now indeed back in the library. Some of the most esoteric and high end cartridges that have come through here were incapable of playback of these marginal recordings. That says a lot about the 301 MKII In its tracking ability.

The more I listened to this cartridge, they more it reminded me of a cartridge that I had used in previous years and just couldn't remember the name of that cartridge. A fellow audiophile was over not long ago and we sat down for an impromptu listening session. After an hour so, he remarked that the 301 MKII had the signature of the Denon DL 103D. With that statement, it dawned on me that this was the signature that I was famaliar with from so long ago. Yes the 301 MKII has that near same signature of the 103D. In many ways perhaps this can be called the updated 103D as opposed to the original 301 which sounds nothing like the 301 MKII. Going through my archives and comparing the specifications between the 103D and the 301 MKII, they are virtually the same. In 1977 the 103D came out at $330.00 msrp and the 301 MKII msrp is $329.95. the more I delve into these cartridges and find performance related information it is uncanny how the 103D and 301 MKII share the same characteristics.

Hopefully I will be able to get George a fellow audiophile to borrow a 103D. He collects phono cartridges and has about 2,500 of them. Never sells any of them ,just collects and I know he has a 103D in that stash, then I can make a true heads on comparison between the two. But more on that later.

As far as the Denon DL 301 MKII goes, I am very impressed with its performance as an accurate musical reproducer and its tracking ability on all types of Lp's puts it in rare company indeed. At its suggested retail of $329.95 is in my opinion an outright gift in the realm of low output MC phono cartridges. However careful shopping you could get for 20 percent less the suggested retail price. It competes very well at up to the $700.00 level.

This is one of those price/performance values that in my opinion sets the Denon DL 301 MKII apart from the crowd. In fact as of the date of this review I do not know of any other low output Moving Coil phono cartridge that is on par with the venerable 301 MKII.

However keep in might this is not a wolf on sheeps clothing, it just does not have the final resolution and transparency of the esoteric high end such as Lyra, Koetsu and upper range of Benz Micro.

Conclusion if you love the moving coil signature and don't feel the need to take a 2nd mortgage out to get one. Give the 301 MKII a try and have cash leftover to get more vinyl - sounds like a plan to me.

I give it a hearty 5 stars for one of the solid all around great performers in its class. Damn near impossible to do better than the Denon DL 301 MKII

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Dynavector, Lyra, Benz, Sumiko, Audio Technica, Grado, etc
I am going to pull the trigger on one of these for my vpi scout soon.  Will report back on my impressions.
Many years late to this thread, but I also have the 301's indeed a sleeper, esp at it's price! I've never seriously felt the need to upgrade,
I had a 103 (don't remember which exact one) many, many years ago and really enjoyed it until I found the stylus missing after a party we had at the house one night. The sound was smooth and soothing, and it handled Jazz and New Wave with equal aplomb. I moved on to a Blue Point Special after the demise of the Denon, and from there got into "higher and higher" high end stuff and forgot about the old Denon until now. I'm opening up a wine bar in a few months and will have a decent stereo system in the joint so we can have some "spin your own vinyl" nights and give the customer base a glimpse of high-end audio. Just bought one of the 301 mk II's for the table I'll be using after long consideration of the potential abuse the cartridge may suffer in such an environment, and will be looking forward to hearing the "Denon Sound" once again. Thanks for the insightful review and it convinced me I made the right choice.
Didn't try the fluid damper, only tonearm rewire with Discovery Cables.
Did you try the KAB fluid damper for the 1200?  I haven't, but it may make the stock 1200 arm work better with a high compliance cartridge such the 301 MK II. 
I don't know, I think I'll give it up, since I don't wanna change the technics stock tonearm. although, I did rewire the cables inside the tonearm.
I have both the DL-301 mk II and a DL-103R.  I also have two SL-1200's, one with the stock arm and one with a Jelco SA-750D.  The 103R sounds and tracks ok on the the stock arm, but really shines on the Jelco.  While tracking fine, The 301 mk II sounds very recessed and closed-off on both the stock arm and the Jelco, even when experimenting with various load settings.  In fact, I was ready to give up on the 301 mk II until I tried it on a Denon DA-401 low-mass tonearm that was on a DP-6000 that I recently picked up--it really opened up compared to its performance on the the other two arms.  On a low-mass tonearm, or at least the DA-401, the 301 mk II is a remarkable cartridge.  Based on my experience, those who find its sound less than satisfying have yet to try it matched to the correct arm.
I just ordered myself a 301 Mk2 as a step up from my DL-103 which I'm currently running on my Technics 1210.

The 301 is supposed to be a better match for compliance of the technics tonearm but right now I feel the 103 does just fine with a heavy headshell and auxiliary weight installed.
I found the high end not so open.. But I'm coming from AT150MLX which is very bright, so I guess I'm biased. Or it's the technics 1210 that can't bring everything out of this cartridge.
Still breaking-in though, it's around 10 hours of use.
60 db should be just great provided the noise floor is low. I think that you are in business. Should be a really nice combo as well, punching above its weight.
Hi Viridian

If you have a Hagerman Technologies Bugle2 set for an MC type cart. I believe the gain is something like 60db. Is that enough phono preamp for a Denon 301 Mk2 or will a step up transformer or head amp be needed still.
No, it will not. Get a transformer or head amp if that is the direction that you need to go.
Alan - to use a lomc like the 301 with a mm stage you will need an external set up transformer or use an external phono stage. Other wise you gotta stick with mm, mi, or high output moving coil carts. If the counterpoint has a MC phono stage then you can use that.
Will this work with a counterpiont sa 3 phono pre in mm mode?
Rupertin, coils can be more detailed and have a spacious sound stage. The Denon 304 was one of the most detailed cartridges I've heard. If price is no object most would say moving coil or moving iron designs are better than moving magnet designs. At low to mid prices, it's a closer call IMO. Coils are also more finicky with impedance matching and gain, you need to invest in a MC gain phono stage, or a step up transformer- neither of which will necessarily be the optimum gain and loading for your MC cartridge. Denon Recommends 100 ohm load, yet this thread says some like it best at 400 ohms- but how do you get 400 ohms- to get an idea of what you are in for getting into MC cartridges.
I own the 301 mkII and ferrari did a good review. Like he says its not the be all cartridge but like other Denons, a very good value, especially if you feel you don't want to go beyond into the ultra pricey esoteric brands.
Hi, how is a moving coil signature different from moving magnet?
I have installed a new Denon DL301 Mk II in my VPI Traveler and am using it to dive a pair of the Shure SUTS one can buy on ebay for $45/pair. Am at the 10 hour break in point now.

This combination feeds my beloved 1964 Marantz 7c preamp. Power amp is the Marantz 8b and speakers are a pair of 1980 Klipsch LaScalas. Speaker cables are Luminous Audio Synchestra Reference Ono single crystal cast copper.

I am very happy with the sound of the DL310 MkII over the DL160 and Shure V15 Type III I was using previously.

Favorite LPs are the 1950 and early 1960 Les Elgart. They will take your breath away!!

Best to you, Bruce
I'm curious if you experimented with different loading impedances other than 100 ohms? Granted it depends on the system used but would the cart benefit from a higher loading in the range of 600-1000 ohms?

Reason I ask is many users find it sounding nice above 400 ohms and again that's their preference. I'm just curious about the cart itself and the small electric motor it is for lack of better terms, do higher loadings adversely affect the nature of the cart?
Comet Supply has those for $170.00 plus shipping though I am far less enthusiastic about this model.
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the Denon 301 MK11. I now have another cart on my target list.